Friday, December 30, 2005

Ode to My Sister

Three Little Old Pigs
This Three Little Old Pigs ornament belonged to my grandmother and now hangs from my sister’s Yule tree. It’s probably about 50 years old, I’d guess. It’s a minor miracle that it didn’t get broken or eaten* at some point along the way. Now that it’s in my sister’s safekeeping it should last another 50 years. She loves Yuletide and has a jaw-dropping collection of Yule decorations and accoutrements.

Here’s the 9-foot Frazier fir—it has to be a fir and it has to be a Frazier. She schlepped it up to her apartment by herself and then decorated it with hundreds of lights and thousands of ornaments.
Frazier Fir

Here are some porcelain figurines that once belonged to my grandmother (the Three Pigs Grandma, by the way) that my sister has decked out in Yuletide attire. The attention to detail is staggering is it not? Note: Figurines such as this are not my taste (at all), but somehow my sister makes them work with her retro '50s '60s decor. Even here they somehow look charming rather than tacky.
Decked Out

And here are some insanely cute March of the Penguins appetizers I helped her make. How does she even know about stuff like this?
March of the Black Olive Penguins

My sister’s prowess as a hostess, entertainer, decorator, and cook have left me reeling, dazzled, and awed. And as if it weren’t enough to host a Christmas Eve party and a Christmas Day party, she threw an impromptu party on the 27th and is giving her annual New Year’s Day Brunch in a few days. She’s done more party throwing in one week than I’ve done in my entire life! She always manages it with grace, style, and good humor. I was constantly being bowled over by nice little touches such as the special antique shaker she has for sprinkling nutmeg over eggnog, which, of course, was served in a festive glass pitcher. I don’t even have a pitcher, and you can bet your boots I don’t have an antique nutmeg shaker.

I don’t know how my sister turned out to be such a stellar hostess. It is not my family's forte. My mom and dad never gave parties (except kids' birthday parties, which were not the extravaganzas they are nowadays). The only time "company" ever came over was on Thanksgiving. It was an ordeal and a source of anxiety and friction. Often as we got close to the final hour—and the house was still catastrophically messy and dirty—my dad would explode into action and haul out the vacuum cleaner. He would invariably be in a foul temper and just be rampaging full tilt through the house with the huge vacuum cleaner (with a headlight) roaring over the carpeting and bashing into the walls. It was rather terrifying and we knew better than to get in his way or try to talk to him. My mom would be randomizing in the kitchen, trying to tackle a million tasks all at once. My brother and I would be setting the table and taking, like, an hour to do it.

There was no nutmeg shaker.

Once the relatives arrived, my brother and I would run to our parents’ bedroom and hide, probably leaving the table with knives and spoons but no forks. My mom would race back there, too, frantically trying to change out of her grungy clothes and to roust us out of there, so it wouldn’t look like she was raising a pair of sociopaths. My sister never ever hid. Not even when she was a toddler. She loved all the relatives and would greet them with hugs and kisses. My brother and were mystified. We stood there awkwardly and stared at our shoes, hoping no one would grab us or speak to us. I guess it was evident early on that my sister was not cut from the same cloth as the rest of our family.

I had a wonderful time staying with her and my saintly brother-in-law. Some highlights (and lowlights) of my visit:
  • Tucking into a big plate of takeout Indian food on Christmas Eve.
  • Helping my sister finish wrapping several hundred presents (it seemed like) at 1:00 AM on Christmas Day and getting so punchy I stuck a few labels on upside-down (and just left them that way).
  • Listening to my littlest brother puke his guts out during Christmas dinner while also claiming he was hungry. (!?)
  • Interviewing my dad about his life and finding out that at one point he seriously considered jacking in his job as a band director to go back to school and become a librarian.
  • Having lunch with my best friend from high school and her high school boyfriend (now her husband) whom I hadn’t seen since 1987. She has the same haircut she had in high school!
  • Taking a chilly evening walk with my sister and brother-in-law to look at Yule lights and ending up at a favorite neighborhood bar for an Irish coffee. The cold weather hat acquitted itself admirably.
  • Playing Fictionary at the impromptu party. (I won.) Most hilarious (albeit transparently incorrect) definition: melton—a subatomic particle of an Australian actor**
  • Getting a chance to spend some quality time with a few friends.
  • Going to the Art Institute of Chicago with my brother, his girlfriend, and my sister to see the amazing For Hearth and Altar African pottery exhibit. Check out this interesting pair of pots. Bonus: We saw the Walking Dude while we were out in front of the museum!
  • Taking my sister out for a cocktails and a light dinner at Club Lucky. The Club Lucky Salad is my favorite salad of all time. I took this photo so I can attempt to re-create it.
  • Discovering the Dutch Angle (courtesy of my brother-in-law who's a professional photographer), an unbelievably simple photo trick that makes snapshots of people less static and a lot more interesting. Do try it at home!
*My oldest brother used to eat tree ornaments. You have to admit many of them look pretty darn tasty.
**My sister came up with that one.


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